My Favorite Professional Boxing Match
I think it would have to be my fight with Jesse Sanders. This was a peak moment for me in the rise of my pro boxing career.
In the previous year I had faced my first loss. Going through the experience of losing my first pro fight was tough. I felt I had won the fight, but dropped a close decision. That’s a whole other story. Anyway, I had told myself I needed to be undefeated, or I’d be unheard of as a pro boxer. I didn’t like the feeling of being robbed by poor judging so I figured if I knocked everyone out I wouldn’t have to worry about judge’s decisions. I started looking at how to increase my power punching and accuracy to attempt this. This time in my career I asked myself if it was worth it to even continue. I did a lot of praying on my runs and asked God if was still them plan. I didn’t get an answer so I just kept pushing till I found out. Here’s a bit of the back-story to give perspective.
After recovering from a brief slump in my attitude Chuck Horton got me a fight at Grand Casino Hinckley. I took my frustrations out on my opponent and stopped him in the first round. Having a win as my last fight we started getting some fight offers here and there. This was nice, but one after another they fell through leaving me frustrated. Then Chuck Horton with help from Mike LeTourneau, got a fight dialed in with Marty Lindquist for the Minnesota state title. Marty was a big puncher and some folks though Shark and I made a bad move. Camp was intense and I had all the confidence going in. After a round and a half of boxing Boom! I had won that fight by TKO and secured the State Title. I wasn’t too banged up from that fight so about 3 weeks later we boxed again at the Grand Casino winning that fight by TKO in the second round as well. I followed those fights with a KO win in Canada and caught the attention of Buddy McGirt. He called Chuck Horton for sparring help and we wound up sparring with Antonio Tarver for his first defense of the Light Heavyweight title. Tarver had taken the title from Roy Jones Jr. by knockout in his previous fight. That camp was great and afterwards Buddy wanted to be a part of my career!
Following that Tommy Brunette took interest in my fighting and offered a fight on FOX SPORTS NET in the Twin Cities. I won that fight by TKO as well. Back in Duluth all this boxing commotion had made quite a stir and opened an opportunity to box at the DECC Arena. To get a crowd big enough for the DECC I had to take a fight that would bring the fans out to watch. Jesse Sanders was a boxer for the event. I saw him in a TITLE BOXING catalogue in an ad for Contender Boxing Gloves. I did some checking around looked at his record. He was 11-1 and the Iowa State Champion. I was the Minnesota State champion with a record of 9-1 at the time so this was the perfect fight for the promotion.
I busted my butt with Chuck Horton in Duluth for a 3-week camp, and then went down to Florida to train with Buddy and get three weeks of sparring. I came home two weeks before the show to help push ticket sales and readjust to being home in Duluth. The whole time I was away in camp there had been a big billboard on the freeway with a poster for the fights stating “Truth in Duluth”. When I got back my phone started ringing off the hook. Emails were coming in like crazy for tickets and there was a serious buzz around town. It seemed like everywhere I went people were wishing me luck and telling me they would be at the show. I felt like I was on the brink of huge things.
The fight weekend came before I faster than I though. The day of the weigh INS I couldn’t have felt better. I ran into Jesse Sanders in the hallway leading to the arena entrance. I said ‘Hey! Welcome to Duluth! Sure glad you made it! We are going show these fans what it’s all about, huh.’ He smiled back and said “Damn Right!” and had a little laugh. He was bigger than I thought and showed confidence. It was one of those moments a fighter gets when he knows he’s in for a real messy fight. I knew at that I would need to box a perfect fight or this guy would mess me up.
I didn’t get too many pre fight butterflies for this fight. I grew more and more focused as I waited for the fight time to come. I remember walking into the DECC Arena and seeing a sea of people pouring into the seats. The locker room was below the stands and I could hear the base of the crowd roars during the undercard fights. I remember thinking of camp and all the reasons why this was for sure my fight. I knew Sanders had a big punch and I knew if I wasn’t careful he’d smoke me. At the same time I knew what to do to avoid getting nailed and felt confident I could pull it off.
Walking out to the ring my brother, Jake, led the way with my MN State Title belt. The crowd started chanting “Jungle Boy, Jungle Boy, Jungle Boy”. Then my entry music of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ came on and the crowd went nuts! There was a cloud of dry ice smoke we walked through. We walked out to the dimly lit arena filled with faces. The isle was narrow with fans yelling, wishing me luck, and trying to give me a high five as I walked by. I had a cold mood and kept focused on the fight. I gave a few smiles, but didn’t want to lose me edge. I could see Jesse Sanders pacing around the ring waiting for my arrival. He didn’t look a bit intimidated by the crowd’s reaction to my ring entrance. As I walked by the ring toward my corner to get in I caught his eye and gave a smile. I gave the old’ head nod and entered the ring. The crowd seemed to go even more nuts! I had a feeling we were going make a mess out of each other that night.
The ring had a white canvas. It was bright in the spotlight. I’m glad the arena was dimly lit or familiar faces may have distracted me. Looking around as I awaited the ref’s instructions and ring announcing I said to myself ‘This must be the big time’.
My recollection of being in the actual fight is spotty, but I do recall some of the bigger moments of the fight. I remember Sanders coming out fast with big punches. Several times I traded with him on the inside and got the better of him, but I knew this was not the place to win the fight. I worked combinations off a quick jab, which seemed to be the ticket. The fight seemed easy and I had boundless energy. It was a moment I knew however bad the fight got I had what it took to edge the rounds and win.
In the third round I remember hitting him with a shot that caught Sanders off balance and dropped him to the mat. The ref ruled it a slip, but I think I landed a nice shot. During the first few rounds I had opened several small cuts on Sanders’ face as well as a gash across his nose. Blood started to spot the white canvassed ring in a circle along the ropes where many of the exchanges happened.
In the fifth round Sanders had begun lunging in with big shots. It seemed like he was gunning for a knockout rather than trying to outbox me. Toward the end of the round he overthrew a right hand with his eyes down. The punch missed, but the top of his head crashed into my forehead giving me a huge gash on my face. Blood was all over. It looked like I had taken a kill shot from a sniper. The doctor took a look and I asked to continue on. He granted clearance to continue fighting. I finished the round with a tight guard and fast jab to keep Sanders away.
The bell rang and I was relieved to get some attention on the cut. This was my first encounter with a cut man. Bob Lynch was his name and he made quick work of the bleeding. Before I knew it the seconds were out and the next round was on. I was much more aware of keeping my range and avoiding the big exchanges. It was at this time I finally realized a clear difference between boxing and fighting. With boxing I could hit and move. Make my opponent miss. It’s like I knew what he was going to do before he did it. Chuck Horton instructed me to continue boxing as I had and the fight wrapped up without the cut opening up too bad. Nevertheless, the white canvas was covered in a slippery slime of blood at the final bell.
Jesse Sanders and I congratulated each other on a well-fought fight and then came to center ring to get the judge’s decision. I had the fight won on all cards and the crown irrupted again! Following the decision, Sanders took hold of the mic and made a shocking speech. He thanked the crowd for the welcome and told them to get behind me in support because I was going places with boxing. I couldn’t believe it! It was like spoke prophetic words foreshadowing my next several years of my career.
All the local networks for news covered the fight and the papers ran several stories on the event the following week. The best article was titled “Bloody Good Fight”. It sure was!
There were several post fight press interviews and the afterglow of the event seemed to continue snowballing. I got called in to speak at different events. People would recognize me and want to talk about boxing and ask when the next fight would be. It was great. I felt like these moments were why I had worked so hard and stuck with it. This was the result of hard work and paying my dues.
The head butt left me with 11 stitches on the center of my forehead starting between my eyebrows. It was the souvenir of a great moment in my career and even though it looked terrible I was proud to tell the story of how I got it. Yes. Boxing is a crazy sport. You get all banged up and love to tell about it. Boxing brings out the crazy in all of us. Ha.
The fight with Jesse Sanders went on to be a foundation moment in my career. After this, my shows in Duluth were in front of big crowds and I was able to live as a full time pro boxer… a dream of mine for some time.
One thing I’d like to add for those out there that are thinking of going pro with boxing is this. Stay loyal to those you start with. Yes, at the end of the deal it’s the boxer in the ring. But what I’m getting at is it takes a team to get rolling. It also takes a lot of hustle and hard work from the fighter to get that moving ahead. Without Chuck Horton and my Team behind my efforts I wouldn’t have accomplished what I did with boxing. Looking back it’s clear that God had a plan and all things did work out for good.
Thanks for the opportunity to share this story.